More on Wolof "hip"

Wilson Gray wilson.gray at RCN.COM
Thu Dec 9 22:08:13 UTC 2004

On Dec 9, 2004, at 4:20 PM, Baker, John wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Baker, John" <JMB at STRADLEY.COM>
> Subject:      Re: More on Wolof "hip"
> -----------------------------------------------------------------------
> --------
>         I thought the most interesting suggestions by DannyBoy were
> the possible Wolof origins for dig, ooga-booga, and perhaps toke.
> (Incidentally, I don't think he meant that English fetch is from Wolof
> fecc.)  It turns out that the possible Wolof connection for dig has
> already been noted; AHD4 says "perhaps influenced by Wolof degg, to
> hear, find out, understand, or Irish Gaelic tuigim, I understand."

"... perhaps influenced by ... Irish Gaelic tuigim, I understand."

Whoever the paddy-boy was who wrote that clearly needs to read "How The
Irish Became White."

-Wilson Gray

>         Toke's derivation from Spanish seems to be uncertain; at
> least, AHD4 notes this possibility  (deriving from toque, not toccare
> - I don't speak Spanish and don't know if the words are related) with
> a cautionary "perhaps."  However, the timing issue makes a Wolof
> derivation a stretch.  I don't know how old "toke" is (I'm on the road
> today and can't look it up), but here's the oldest cite I found in
> Westlaw, from 1958, describing events of 1957:  "However, Barragan
> told Halcon that he could let him have a 'roach' and handed it to
> Halcon, saying, 'It is only good for two or three tokes.'"  People v.
> Barragan, 163 Cal.App.2d 625, 627, 329 P.2d 733, 735 (1958).  That
> seems awfully late for a possible derivation from Wolof.
>         Incidentally, AHD4 doesn't mention the other meaning of toke,
> casinoese for tip.  (Maybe it's really a separate word, not just a
> separate meaning.)  Here's the earliest use I saw.  This example is
> atypical, in that the employees are not dealers and the tokes are not
> from gamblers, but it's still a casino environment.  This long
> discussion is from a 1965 decision of a National Labor Relations Board
> Trial Examiner against Harrah's Club, 158 NLRB 758:
>         <<Prior to December 23, 1963, the stage technicians at the
> South Shore Room of Respondent customarily were given gratuities, or
> tokes, from featured entertainers. Usually the gratuities were in the
> form of money, although occasionally they were in the form of material
> gifts. Based on the estimates of the stage technicians and
> particularly on the records of stage technician William Murray, which
> show tokes totaling $410 during 1963, I find that the stage
> technicians generally received in excess of $300 annually in tokes.
>         . . . .
>         Respondent contends that during all times material herein it
> has had a policy that tokes are acceptable from customers only and not
> from noncustomers, that is, persons who are under contract with
> Respondent or otherwise are performing a service for or selling
> something to Respondent. Entertainers and featured performers are
> under contract with Respondent. In support of this contention
> Respondent offered in evidence a booklet, "You & Your Job," published
> in June 1963, and distributed to employees, which contained the
> following statement of policy:
>         If you maintain Harrah's high standards of sincere
> friendliness, courtesy and cheerfulness, you will find that a number
> of customers will appreciate your attitude to the extent that you will
> be offered a gratuity, tip or "toke". These are acceptable and we are
> pleased to see you receive them if offered under the above
> circumstances.
>         This publication only indirectly suggests that tokes from
> other than customers are outside the scope of the policy statement.
>         Early in 1964, in a reprinting of the booklet "You & Your
> Job," the following paragraph was added on the matter of tipping or
> tokes:
>         When a service is performed not for a customer but for someone
> doing contractual work for Harrah's and when Harrah's pays the
> employee specifically for performing such service, no toke may be
> accepted by the employee performing such service.
>         Irrespective of these publications, the record is clear that
> it was an established practice at the South Shore Room for
> entertainers, with very few exceptions, to give tokes to the stage
> technicians. Walker's record on tokes covers a period of 2 years and 3
> months prior to December 1963. Generally the tokes were handed in
> envelopes to each of the stage technicians on the closing night of a
> show by one of Respondent's supervisors, such as Producer Barkow or
> Stage Manager Lein; occasionally the performer himself would give the
> tokes to the technicians.
>         . . . .
>         There is also evidence both for and against a finding that
> toking of stage technicians by entertainers is a general practice in
> the entertainment business. There appears to be places where it is
> done and places where it is not done. Irrespective of this, since the
> giving of gratuities is initiated by the entertainer and the stage
> technician is merely on the receiving end, and since all entertainers,
> with very few exceptions, gave tokes at the South Shore Room, and the
> tokes were usually transmitted through supervisory personnel, the
> practice of toking there clearly existed and was known and accepted by
> management until the December 23, 1963, notice. Respondent has the
> right to discontinue this practice, but not as a retribution to the
> employees because of their union activities.>>
>         The gambling literature would probably take this term back
> further.
> John Baker
> -----Original Message-----
> From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU]On Behalf
> Of Laurence Horn
> Sent: Thursday, December 09, 2004 3:11 PM
> Subject: Re: More on Wolof "hip"
> As for the comments below, this really does illustrate
> the danger of crying Wolof--the plausible babies (maybe "dig"?) are
> thrown out with the obfuscatory bathwater.  It would help DannyBoy's
> case if he picked up a dictionary with decent e(n)tymologies, where
> he would learn that inter alia "OK" is from "oll korrect" (and not
> from Old Kinderhook, Choctaw, *or* Wolof), that "fetch" is from Old
> English, which didn't have much of a Wolof substrate, that "goober"
> is indeed Out of Africa, but from Bantu ngubi (in fact if he checked
> the AHD4 entry for "goober" he'd find a few more English words that
> can be plausibly derived from African sources) rather than Wolof
> "ger-teh" (?), that "toke" is more likely from Span. toccare, etc.
> etc.
> Larry
>> Subject: re:Sheidlower/ Crying Wolof/origin of hip
>> From: DannyBoy
>> Date: Dec 8 2004 2:48PM
>> I have some authority on this subject: I spent two years in Senegal
>> (Peace Corps), spoke reasonably good Wolof and kept my own glossary
>> of words which I later hand-copied as a dictionary since there were
>> so few English-Wolof glossaries available. Furthermore, I wrote a
>> newspaper column some years ago (Tampa Tribune) opining a number of
>> these connections, all from my own observations. To wit:
>> 1) I never heard the word "hipi" over there. But I heard what may be
>> a regional variant, "Hebu", meaning "one who is aware." Sheidlower
>> makes no notice of the fact that Senegal was where countless slaves
>> from the entire West African coast were transshipped, from coastal
>> slavers to oceangoing ones, at the Island of Goree in Dakar's
>> harbor. I am unclear how many Wolofs were among those taken, but
>> between Africans dealing with the slave trade, or those taken slaves
>> and brought here, there were significant chances for contact. By the
>> way, while the letter "h" isn't used in Wolof, the sound exists, and
>> it is represented sometimes in modern Wolof orthography - which no
>> one over there actually uses; people either write Wolof using Arabic
>> characters, or learn French in school using Roman ones, or are
>> illiterate in Wolof - by the letter "x". It may be closer to a
>> guttural "ch" than to a nice breathy "h", but close enough for the
>> sounds to have crossed over.
>> 2) The word for "dance" in Wolof is "fecc", pronounced "fetch."
>> Stepin Fetchit?
>> 3) The word for "to smoke" in Wolof is "tokh," pronounced as it
>> looks with a guttural ch at the end. "Toke" maybe?
>> 4) I never bought the translation others touted between the Wolof
>> word for "peanuts" - "gerte", pronounced "ger-teh" - and "goobers,"
>> so I appreciate the stretches those looking for connections will
>> sometimes make. But there are others which are better.
>> 5) I may have been one of the first proponents of the connections
>> between an enthusiastic Wolof affirmative - "waaw-kay" and our
>> favorite American slangism, "OK." But the sense is very close. In
>> Wolof, "yes" is "waaw", pronounced "wow." You say "waaw-kay" when
>> you're being particularly emphatic about it. Sort of an Austin
>> Powers "yeah, BABY!" "I brought home dinner." "Waaw-KAY!" I always
>> thought the "Old Kinderhook" explanation relating it to Martin Van
>> Buren's campaign slogan was weak; the entymology relating it to
>> Cherokee "okeh" may have been stronger. But I think mine is at least
>> as plausible.
>> 6) "Dig" is so obviously from Wolof that I don't think any debate
>> can exist about it. Its sense is dead-on. Wolof "degg", which is
>> pronounced "dig", means both "to hear" and more deeply "to
>> understand," which is exactly what the slang "dig" means. You don't
>> bother digging that the TV is on in the next room. You dig what
>> someone is telling you.
>> 7) "Bopp" in Wolof means "head," and among the senses of "bopping"
>> in English is that moving of the head when you're not quite dancing
>> but moving your head to the music. I don't know "bop"'s etymology
>> back past the origin of bebop jazz, and I don't know where that
>> phrase came from, or if "bop" precedes it.
>> 8)This isn't exactly an etymology, but it is quite possible that the
>> generic stereotypic African-savage phrase "ooga booga" comes from
>> Wolof. A common phrase in the language is "nge bugge" - pronounced
>> "oonga booga" - which means "you want" or "do you want." Something
>> said multiple times daily and probably heard by any foreign visitor.
>> I had one or two others but can't lay hands on my column. The main
>> ones are above. Anyone else who knows anything about Wolof out there?
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU]On
>> Behalf
>> Of Jesse Sheidlower
>> Sent: Wednesday, December 08, 2004 10:23 PM
>> Subject: More on Wolof "hip"
>> ADS-L'ers who are a fan of the Wolof "hip" story might be
>> interested in my article on the subject in Slate:
>> They let me namecheck Larry for the headline, thank goodness,
>> though they insisted on using the word "coined".
>> Jesse Sheidlower
>> OED

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